The Venice Beach drum circle, is what I like to think of as the original drum circle. All the caricatures of Venice condense onto a plot of beach just off the skate park an hour-or-so before sunset on Sunday afternoons. This was my third voyage to the drum circle and I'm more in love than ever. To those who are not acquainted with the idea of a drum circle, it is exactly as it sounds; a group of people who meet with their drums (of course, all instruments are welcome) and jam-out and dance together in a positive spirit. It is the epitome of the southern california hippie vibe.
Me dancing to the beats
From the outside it may look like everyone is hovering in some sort of hallucinogenic trance but oddly enough most are just high on life. There is no leader to the drum circle because it is completely collective. The direction of evolution is an organic, group decision like a flock of sparrows all diving and gliding in perfect harmony.
Guillaume was out of town, so I arrived with my wonderful friend Kristina, a Russian girl I met while living in New York City. We start off almost shy as we enter the circle. Soon we are surrounded by smiles, and smells of incense, sweat and cannabis and it becomes apparent there is no judgement here and we quickly get into the spirit. As we flow around the circle I notice how the beats change depending on the area, some are higher tempo and some are lower. Our bodies morph with them as we dance around the circle.
Kristina G dancing
I watch a man play a cowbell-like instrument in a tie-dyed shirt; his eyes are closed but his long white beard doesn't cover the smile strapped across his face. An unassuming woman in a sundress stomps into the sand like a mad person making wine from grapes. A couple of blonde-haired children cartwheel around like flying squirrels. We even get a special appearance from “Tree Man,” a Venice Beach local who, um, dresses like a tree. Occasionally there is a howl and I'm struck by how natural it sounds.
Tree man with drum sticks in hand
Sometimes someone starts jamming so fast and with such intensity that the rest of the musicians jump on that track. Sometimes someone takes a drumming break and the collective flow is inspired by this juncture to take the music to a crawl, leaving all the dancers in this slow motion jello-like wiggle. Then, the beat picks up and we are carried off to another crescendo of gyrating hips and hooting. This ebb and flow carries us in a state of semi consciousness and pure being. As the sun starts to set, everyones happiness is highlighted from the warm pink breath of the setting sun.
Finally our calves grow sore from dancing and our cheeks sore from grinning and in the distance the cop cars begin to arrive. Yes, the police. The drumming is to end at sunset but as this ambiguous time sets in, and the musicians continue their tango, law enforcement circles in like sharks on the prowl. Everyone seems to understand the delicate game of cat and mouse that unfolds over the next twenty minutes.
Cop cars at the scene
The police cars creep closer and closer and give a flash of their lights, then longer until the crowd is illuminated in blue and red flashes. Then, in response to a whoop of sirens, the drummers erupt in a frenzied beat synched with the sirens. To a newcomer this may seem like insubordination or police bullying but this is an essential part of this particular drum circle ritual.
We continue dancing to the sirens until the drummers find the perfect climax as dusk falls and we all dash from the scene with our beach towels flying over out shoulder, the cops winking at us as we go.